You just grew a baby, for goodness’ sake! Nine months in, nine months out — at least. Focus on your baby for now, sweet mama; you can lose the weight later. And it’s all true. We know it’s true! But after spending the better part of a year watching our bodies change shape in all kinds of unanticipated ways, can you blame a woman for wanting to try to regain a little control?
Of course not! Most of us understand that drive to try to lose the baby weight. But when you’re also breastfeeding your little one, there’s an added dimension: how can I lose those extra pounds without risking problems with my milk supply? It is possible to help the process along without hindering your chances of meeting your nursing goals. Here are our top tips.
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We get it. You’re eager to get on the pre-baby-body bandwagon. The thing is, it’s so, so crucial that you give yourself at least two months before you start actively trying to lose weight. You need to give your body time to recover from the strain of birth and the stresses of newborn living. And when you’re nursing a baby on top of things, well, that’s a whole extra parenting skill you (and baby) are trying to learn. In addition, doctors and lactation experts agree that a new mom needs at least eight weeks of general down time to develop a strong milk supply; starting a new exercise routine or diet before then could interfere with that milk supply. So do yourself a favor and just let yourself rest for a bit; weight loss can come later.
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This is possibly one of the most important things to remember, especially for mothers of a baby who’s under a year old. Breastfeeding burns, on average, an extra 200-500 calories every day, and that’s nothing to sneeze at! To effectively utilize the inherent calorie-busting of nursing, it’s best to just feed your baby whenever she or he wants to eat. Don’t watch the clock. Don’t listen to your in-laws telling you it’s too soon. Ignore the books that say to stretch the time between feedings to a certain number of minutes or hours. Trust in your baby and your body and feed on demand, and let the magic of milk making help slowly trim away the extra weight.
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When your body needs to make milk to nourish your little one, it’s absolutely vital that you make sure you consume the healthiest possible diet yourself. To that end, follow the advice of pretty much every doctor everywhere and be sure you’re eating plenty of plant foods. While a well-rounded vegetarian or vegan diet can be perfectly healthy while breastfeeding (and can, in of itself, aid the weight loss process), don’t think that you necessarily need to go that route if it doesn’t otherwise feel right to you. But plant foods are important sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, not to mention complex carbs, healthy fats, and protein. And too many people simply don’t eat enough of them. Bulk out your post-baby diet with plants and reap the rewards.
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It probably seems counterintuitive when you’re hoping to lose weight, but now is definitely not the time to go on a fat-free diet. Your milk contains 3-5% fat, which helps your baby build a strong brain and all those chunky baby rolls you love to squeeze. Consequently, it’s important to make sure that your diet contains adequate amounts of fat from healthy sources. Avocados, nuts, seeds, and olives are great dietary sources of fat, while coconut and olive oils can also help provide the needed amounts. While you don’t want to skimp, remember too that in order to lose weight, many dietitians recommend keeping your overall fat intake at less than 25% of your total calories.
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The thing is, you actually can diet while breastfeeding. A little. But you have to be smart about it. Going on an extremely low-calorie diet while nursing a baby is a terrible idea that can lead to a problem with your milk supply. Most doctors and other experts advise not going below 1500-1800 calories daily, depending on your body type and how much weight you’re trying to lose; most women do better staying at the higher end of that range. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, meanwhile, recommends that women of “normal” weight aim for 2500 calories daily. Instead of worrying too much about calories, it’s smarter to instead focus on what you’re eating, and make sure that what you’re taking in is the healthiest possible. Calories matter less than nutrient-density, but if calorie-counting is your thing, just make sure you don’t go too low.
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Remember: you need to be eating a balanced diet in order to maintain a healthy milk supply for your baby. Breastfeeding is not a time to be jumping on the fad diet bandwagon; don’t go on a juice cleanse or start living off cabbage soup now. That being said, many trendy eating habits haven’t really been studied for safety while breastfeeding. Most nutritionists agree that a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet is perfectly safe, with “well-planned” being the operative term. Keto, the current media darling, has not really been studied yet, but some doctors cautiously say a modified version (with ample carbs) should be safe while nursing. However you choose to eat, just remember to strive for balance and the right mix of nutrients.
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For many of us, one of the most satisfying meals of our entire lives is the first meal after giving birth. But that’s really only the beginning. When you’re breastfeeding, you learn the true meaning of hunger. While it’s tempting to just habitually go back for seconds (or thirds… or fourths…) of every meal, it might be smarter to space your food intake out a bit. Instead of three giant meals every day, consider eating smaller meals… with plenty of healthy snacks in between. And, weird as it may seem, the months of breastfeeding your infant are a time when it’s not only socially acceptable, but healthy to eat a snack in the middle of the night.
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We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: one of the most important parts of any weight-loss plan is a healthy, well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet. But when you’re literally always holding a baby, and especially after your parents have gone back home and your partner has returned to work, it might get a little tricky to actually prepare that healthy food. To avoid turning too often to less-healthy options like take-out or frozen meals, find a few minutes every week to make an actual meal plan of healthy, relatively easy-to-prepare dishes that can easily be eaten with one hand and which will make enough leftovers to last for a few meals. If you make a plan and buy the right ingredients, it’s much easier to eat well.
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You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: drink water. Drink lots of water. Not only is staying adequately hydrated essential to maintaining a strong milk supply for your little one, drinking water helps immensely in losing the baby weight. How? The biggest reason is because water is absolutely essential to your body’s many functions, from blood circulation to digestion to even regulating your overall temperature. If you deny your body the water it needs every day, it stores up extra on its own, the dreaded “water weight.” But if you show your body you’re more than willing to give it the water it needs day in and day out, it won’t hold on to that extra as a just-in-case. Drink more water to lose the water weight.
The connection between sleep and weight loss — or inadequate sleep and weight gain — is well-established. Obviously, as a parent, sleep is probably something you never get enough of. But seeing as how science says sleep is important for weight loss, it’s important that you do your best! Consider this the excuse you need to let the dishes go until tomorrow, to wait to fold that laundry, and to put off all other household chores. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and don’t make yourself get up early if you don’t have to! And as hard as it may be to justify, try to get those naps in when your little one is asleep; your body will thank you.
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Contrary to popular belief, you can exercise while you’re breastfeeding! Most new moms can start some form of gentle exercise once they’re fully healed down below and have been cleared by their OBGYN or midwife, and gradually build up to something moderate. It’s important to consider the extra calories burned from making milk itself in addition to what you burn while exercising, and to make sure that you’re still eating plenty to maintain a solid supply. You’ll need to plan your workout schedule somewhat around your baby’s feeding schedule (or lack thereof); honestly, it’s so much more comfortable to exercise after a feed, when your breasts are emptier. And it’s worth noting that some babies do notice a taste difference immediately after Mom’s sweat session, as extra lactic acid may show up in the milk. But exercise is very doable, and can be an important part of postpartum weight loss (not to mention a source of much-needed alone time).
If you’re hoping to lose weight, you probably want to focus on the cardio, hoping to burn away that extra fat as quickly as possible. But what you really need is balance; cardio is great for the sweat factor, but strength training has an important place in any weight loss exercise plan, too. Why? Because, simply put, having more muscle means you burn more calories throughout the rest of the day. Lean muscle mass means that literally everything else you do will burn more calories than it otherwise would. Plus, having some muscles will come in handy as your little one gets bigger; you’ll be carrying them around periodically for the next few years, after all, so make sure your strength grows accordingly.
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Babywearing may seem trendy, but it’s also super convenient for many moms who have little ones that need to be held constantly. But going beyond the tremendous help it offers in day-to-day parenting, babywearing can also help with weight loss! How? Think of it this way: when you’re wearing your baby, you’re adding their weight to yours. You’re carrying an extra 8+ pounds with you everywhere, doing everything you do. Up and down stairs. Through the grocery store. Back and forth from the apartment laundry room. That extra weight adds up to extra calories burned. To increase the burn further, add random sets of (baby-weighted) squats or lunges to your day.
If you’re not yet familiar with the sensation of being “touched out,” you will be soon enough. Parenting is hard work, and in some ways, breastfeeding-— having your baby literally attached to you, sometimes for hours at a time — makes it even harder. Relieve some of the inherent stress of motherhood by finding some time to just be by yourself. Whether that’s handing baby off to a friend so you can take a shower, getting a solid workout in, or getting up 20 minutes early to meditate, having some “me time” will lower your stress levels and help you better face the rest of the day. Stress is linked to weight gain, via hormonal changes and craving starchy or fatty foods, so not only will alone time help you be a better, calmer parent, but it may help you lose those extra pounds as well.
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So you’ve been eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and walking with your little one in the stroller or carrier several times per week, but the number on the scale just isn’t budging. What gives? Even if you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, don’t give up on yourself, your baby, your body, or your healthy habits. Stick with it! Keep eating a well-rounded diet. Keep up the easy to moderate exercise. Keep doing your best to get at least a halfway decent night’s sleep. Don’t spend too much time dwelling on your perceived “failure” to lose weight. Stick with it all, and have faith that eventually your commitment will pay off.
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We know it’s a frustrating mantra to hear, but for a breastfeeding mama, a slow and steady weight loss is the way to go. Trying to lose too much too quickly can quickly impact your milk supply, and that’s not the goal at all! Instead, most experts agree that a breastfeeding woman can safely lose 1-1.5 pounds per week, so that’s a good goal to aim for. Follow the other tips above — eat well, exercise the right ways, and aim for an overall healthy life — and this goal can be achievable. Just don’t push yourself to lose the weight too fast.